It’s no secret we live in a time when everything old is new again. Music, fashion, food, fitness, it’s all come full circle. But can that same rule apply to friends?
I recently received an email that caused me great concern. Typically my email traffic is very dull: phone bills, my mum saying HELLO in ALL CAPS, the occasional Nigerian Prince scam – business as usual. But this one required a serious double take.
Subject: CATCH UP!
Hey, so I was wondering if you were free for dinner on Tuesday? Was great seeing you last week and we said we should catch up more, so let’s catch up more?! Will give you a buzz later today to follow up???
Now on the surface, I’ll admit, it’s a pretty nice email. The tone is light, the person seems upbeat, they use a lot of question marks – possibly too many – in fact, if you re-read the email there are a total of six question marks. That’s six too many. It’s a hop, skip and a jump away from cutting letters out of a magazine and sending a ransom-style letter in the mail. It doesn’t bode well.
But the bigger concern is that this person, who is trying to punctuate their way into my diary, is an old school friend.
I know that may not seem like a big deal, but allow me to provide a little context. Over the past year, my social calendar has resembled a pretty serious stroll down memory lane.
First, it was the 10-year high school reunion – a bizarre but surprisingly enjoyable affair at a local pub. Unfortunately, the rise of Facebook means there’s no element of surprise at these reunions – you know what everyone looks like and what they’re up to. But it was nice to actually talk to people you had grown up with, instead of just silently observing their lives on social media.
Then it was two engagement parties and a wedding. It was a big time for small talk. Please enjoy a selection of some of my go-to lines:
So, what kind of start-up is it?
Yeah, it honestly seems like yesterday!
No kids yet, I can barely look after myself [laughs].
Do you reckon that’s it for the food?
Initially, the whole reminiscing schtick was pretty fun, nostalgia has a way of making history hilarious. Old jokes were dusted off and trotted out, often served up with a healthy dose of poetic license to make funny stories even funnier.
But with each passing catch up, reminiscing turned into regression. People fell into the roles they had spent ten years breaking out of.
Which leads me to my friend, Captain Question Mark. In school we had been close, fancying ourselves as a kind of comedic duo (I’m mortified even writing that) – he was the wacky funster and I was the straight man.
Having this person from my past suddenly be so present was really nice to start with. We traded stories and milestones. He recently purchased a house, I no longer had mould in the rental – we were all winning.
But by the third time I’d seen him, a switch had been flicked. We were no longer reconnecting; instead, he was determined to act out a retro routine where he was the gag man and I was the fall guy.
Surrounded by a group of former classmates he regaled stories from our past, pausing for me to chime in with a deadpan delivery to revive the “magic” we once had.
HIM: “Hey Thomas, remember when you had dyed blonde hair and a shell necklace?”
ME: Remember? How could I forget, I looked like a chubby ethnic Bodhi from Point Break.
HIM: “And then you tore your pants so badly on that tree stump it looked like you had been attacked by a bear!”
ME: Another highlight from the sizzle reel.
After seeing him four times in as many months it was clear – to me at least – that we had both changed and all that existed between us was a hazy memory of a time when we had been inseparable.
Fast forward to the email in my inbox and it’s time to make a decision.
It can be tempting to believe that a backlog of happy memories should make it easy to pick up where you left off. But if that’s not the case, you owe it yourself (and the friendship you shared) to call it off.
Hey mate, thanks for the note. It has been great to catch up so much recently. Was really glad to hear you’re doing well, though it was never in any doubt. Thanks for the invite to dinner but I think I’ll have to pass. Perhaps I’ll see you at the 20 year reunion? Look after yourself!
And with that, it was done and dusted.
About an hour after sending the email I saw a new message in my inbox. Convinced it was going to be a scathing reply I opened it gingerly. Instead, it was a note from a girl I’d gone to high school with.
We’d never really seen eye to eye, she was deeply religious and pretty judgmental – not the type of combination I was in the market for as a teenage guy. But at a recent wedding, we spoke for hours, covering her life, my life, how we’d changed, what we wanted for ourselves, our children, the world. It was one of those award-winning chats you almost want to record so you can replay it again.
In her email – without using a single question mark – she suggested we meet up for coffee, noting that it had been really nice to catch up. I couldn’t have agreed more.
Ultimately, it seems that’s the real beauty of looking back. Accepting that while old friends might fade, new ones can pop up when you least expect it. Maybe taking a stroll down memory lane ain’t so bad after all.